By Adam Levine
Framingham’s cross-country programs hosted the first Rams Invitational at the Warren Conference Center Sept. 30.
Framingham’s senior captain, Patrick Walsh, placed first in the men’s division, and freshman Kate Buban placed first in the women’s division, helping to win a team title for the women.
Although the event took place at the Conference Center, the majority of the course took place across the street at the Warren Woods - which is owned by the Town of Ashland, not the University.
Carl Hakansson, chair of the Ashland Land Stewardship Committee and a member of the Ashland Conservation Commission, said Scott VanderMolen, former head coach of Framingham’s cross-country teams, first reached out about hosting an event at the Warren Woods before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hakansson is a retired professor of the Geography Department, now the Environment, Society & Sustainability Department, at FSU, an alumnus, and a lifetime resident of Ashland.
He said the Rams Invitational was the first sporting event hosted at Warren Woods.
Framingham’s Interim Cross Country Head Coach, Mark Johnson, said the Rams Invitational was in the works since the spring and the details were finalized during the fall.
Ned Price, head coach of the FSU men’s cross country team from 1978 to 1997 and now-retired professor of mathematics at FSU, said the team hosted 20 to 30 meets during his 20 years as a coach.
He said it was “gratifying” to see a home meet after all these years.
Johnson said the event, the first home meet in over 25 years, was “incredible.”
President Nancy Niemi, who was in attendance, emphasized the importance of establishing that FSU can host a meet with other schools as it allows people to see the Warren Center.
FSU acquired the Warren Conference Center in April 2016 and has since hosted University events. The race began and ended, the athletes warmed up, and the awards were presented all on the field of the Warren Conference Center.
Johnson said he spent hours feeling out the surroundings of the Warren Conference Center and Warren Woods to plan the course.
He said, “It’s just been a matter of trying to make as beautiful of a course as we can to show the MASCAC [Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference] - the world - how nice the Warren Center and Framingham State areas are, but while making a true cross-country course.
“I would say this course is going to be a fairly true cross-country course,” Johnson added.
Hakansson said the Warren Woods are a “diverse” mixture of woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, and uplands.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, who was in attendance, said the event wouldn’t have worked without the Town of Ashland’s help to combine the venue at the Warren Center with the Warren Woods.
Warren Woods was acquired by the Town of Ashland in 2012 with the help of funds from the Ashland Community Preservation Act, according to The MetroWest Daily News.
The Town of Ashland closed the deal with the help of a $500,000 grant from the Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity program, according to The MetroWest Daily News.
Hakansson said the Land Stewardship Committee is responsible for maintaining the land under a conservation restriction, rather than as recreational land.
He said, “We are limited in what we can do here by that conservation restriction. Things that would have an impact outside the purpose of that restriction we wouldn't be able to do here.”
Hakansson said he looks at this event from a “conservation lens” and not a “sports lens.”
He said the conservation restriction “doesn’t mean that people who are doing things like this track event can't appreciate the beauty of nature while they’re running.”
Interim Head Coach Johnson said the course is “beautiful” and the Warren Center is an “incredible spot.”
He said it is “just very scenic, very friendly for viewership.”
Johnson said, “A lot of parents have reached out just saying that they were happy that they were able to see their athlete so many times.”
He said this is not typical for cross-country races. “Being able to see [the runners] for five, six stretches for, you know, 100 meters at a time is pretty huge.”
Hakansson said the Town of Ashland has established a working partnership with the University and the Warren Center.
He said if events at the Warren Center are compatible with the Warren Woods’ conservation restrictions, there are opportunities to enhance the events and the partnership.
Hakansson said he thinks the Warren Center is “underutilized” for athletics and there is a “real opportunity” for the University to host athletic events there.
President Niemi said the Warren Conference Center is “a really important part of the University that we need to develop and we're clearly doing that.”
Niemi said there are other athletic events she hopes the Warren Center can host in the future.
She said, “Who knows what possibilities, but the opportunity is there.”
Vice President Hamel said he was pleased with the opportunity to use the Warren Center and see it be “utilized” to support the University’s athletic programs.
Framingham’s women’s cross country team finished first, while the men’s team finished third.
The top five finishers of the women’s race included Framingham's Kate Buban, senior captain Camille Carvalho, sophomore Kelsey Gendreau, and senior Leah Chace in first, second, third, and fifth place, respectively.
The top five finishers of the men’s race included Framingham’s Patrick Walsh and sophomore Logan Crow in first and fifth place, respectively.
The men ran their 8-kilometer race first. Six runners competed for Framingham, 10 for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and five for Worcester State.
Mass. Maritime placed first and Worcester second for the team scores.
Walsh, who finished with a time of 29:18.7, said, “I'm excited. It's my first college W.
“It's high hopes for the rest of the season,” he added.
Walsh said he saw the course on Thursday and Friday before the race, but Johnson adjusted it after the rain.
He said he knew he wanted to “take the first two miles easy” because of the course’s conditions.
Walsh said, “I wanted to run a certain effort because I knew the pace wasn't going to be similar to what I usually run.
“As soon as I came through those first few miles and I saw that I had a little gap, it was just work from there,” he added.
Crow, who finished with a time of 31:46.7, said he was “pretty proud” of his performance and thought he did the best he could.
He said, “It was new. I've never really had a race like that in a while, so I think I did pretty well overall.”
The women started their 5-kilometer race after all the men finished. Ten runners competed for Framingham, seven for Mass. Maritime, and four for Worcester.
Mass. Maritime placed second and Worcester did not have enough runners competing to accumulate team points.
Framingham, led far in front by Buban, formed a pack early in the race and held a steady lead over Worcester’s and Mass. Maritime’s runners.
Buban finished the course with a time of 22:18.8 and earned MASCAC Rookie of the Week on Oct. 3.
She said she felt really good, but she wished she ran “a little quicker - but it’s a hard course.”
Carvalho, who finished with a time of 23:28.6, described the course as “an honest cross-country course.”
She said she feels “good” and “strong” about her second-place finish, but her time “could have been a little bit better.
“I’m excited for the future,” she added.
Johnson said he is proud of all his athletes and referred to them as “resilient.”
He said at the beginning of the season, nerves definitely would have been higher because it was a “true cross-country course.”
Johnson said, “The fact that our runners were able to take that, throw it out the window, and to say, ‘You know what, this is our course. This is the Rams’ course. We’re going to have fun with it. We’re going to go out, we’re going to compete. We’re going to compete against ourselves. We’re going to compete against the other teams here.”
The event concluded with an award ceremony led by President Niemi and Assistant Atheltic Director Kathy Lynch. Each of the top five finishers in the races received a Rams’ cross country T-shirt as an award.
Coach Johnson said it was “very special” having Hamel, Lynch, and Niemi at the event.
Athletes said the rain from the days before the meet created a muddy course condition.
Johnson said he arrived early on the morning of the event to adjust the course. He said he kept “wiping out” and was “super concerned” about the condition of the terrain.
“Luckily, the rain subsided,” he said.
Senior captain Gwen Madden said the mud made the course “more fun than just a normal race.” She finished in seventh place with a time of 24:52.5.
Senior captains Becca Morris and Amanda Beddard, as well as other team members, did not compete, but all participated in their own ways.
Morris, Beddard, and other team members directed runners in the woods and ensured the success of the race.
Johnson said non-competing athletes were placed in “strategic” spots along the course to help out if anything happened.
He said, “They did a great job in those roles.
“Captains and the team stepped up and I'm just beyond proud of them for that,” he added.
Beddard said she was placed in the woods with teammate Meghan Johnston to make sure runners were OK and keep track of where everyone was.
Morris said she worked as a crossing guard for where the course passed across a road.
Johnson said he is proud of his entire team and everyone involved.
He said the team watched the event grow “from preseason to now and saw it become just a thought to a reality.”
Patrick Walsh said everyone at the event was cheering, screaming, and had a lot of fun.
Framingham’s Athletics Director, Tom Kelley, said having a home meet adds a “little credibility” to the cross-country programs.
Kelley said, “Anytime you add to a program, or add something to the program, it adds something to athletics.”
He said hopefully, the athletes “get that feeling that the administration cares - that we’re behind the program 100%.”
Assistant Athletics Director Lynch said she thought the event went very well and it is “only a good thing” for the cross-country programs and the Athletics Department.
Coach Johnson said having a home meet is “just so big on so many levels.
“It brings awareness to the name of Framingham State,” he added.
FSU’s Director of Community Relations, Peter Chisholm, said, “Winning breeds winning.”
Chisholm said the success of the event can help with recruiting for the cross-country programs.
Emily Newcomb ’23, who ran for FSU cross country for four years, said the meet was an “accumulation of all the hard work” the athletes have been putting in over the past few years.
She said they have been trying to host the event for years. “Their success of having this meet is our success.”
Matt Mori ’23 said he only ran for FSU cross country for one year, but in his years running for other colleges, he never had a course that was “officially our home meet” and it is “very refreshing” to see FSU cross country hosting an event.
Mori said, “I think it could definitely attract a lot more people - a lot more people will see how much fun we're having.”
Johnson said he thinks more teams will be interested in participating in the event in the future because “it's like a real cross-country course - you get to get down and dirty and in the mud and run through actual cross-country conditions.”
Madden said she hopes this “establishes us as a team in the MASCAC.”
She said now that FSU has a home meet, it opens the opportunity to host the MASCAC Championships in the future.
Madden said the current freshmen on the team don’t know a season here without hosting a home meet. “I feel like it's just going to become normal for them.”
Beddard said running a home course and having people come out and support the team is a “great confidence booster.”
She said, “Big things are coming.
“It's nice to have a place that we can say is our home meet.
“I feel like it puts us on the map a little bit more - just another step toward really enhancing our program,” Beddard added.
Johnson said, “We're going to build this into something special moving forward.
“The sky is the limit for this event,” he added.